Just weeks after accepting his position as IIA president and CEO, Anthony Pugliese's schedule was jam packed with IIA-related activities. He arrived bright-eyed and smiling at IIA Global Headquarters for meetings, interviews, and a photo shoot amid a whirlwind schedule.
That whirlwind will no doubt intensify as Pugliese officially takes the helm, replacing longtime leader Richard Chambers. He says he is enthusiastic about the potential for a more vibrant, innovative, and future-ready internal audit profession — and IIA. His vision prioritizes new approaches to learning and training; technological advancement and acumen; human intelligence skills; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) — all vital to internal audit's long-term growth and relevance, he says.
"Internal auditors get to see the whole organization in a way that not many others do," Pugliese says. "That can be challenging, but it's also exciting because it never stops changing and our profession gets to be in the middle of it, advising management and giving assurance to shareholders and audit committees."
Pugliese's broad experience includes seven years at Deloitte, 21 years at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), and more than two years in his most recent position, president and CEO of the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA), the largest state CPA organization in the U.S. The IIA's Global Executive Search Committee selected him after a meticulous, stakeholder-informed global search. "Anthony has the breadth, depth, and scale of experience, business acumen, and strategic thinking that will facilitate the growth of The IIA and ready it for the future of the internal audit profession — from membership and global advocacy to digital transformation and technological innovation," says Mike Joyce, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association vice president, chief auditor and compliance officer, who chaired the committee.
Turning Vision Into Action
When digging into his new role at The IIA, Pugliese asked individual stakeholders open-ended questions, allowing themes to emerge organically. He takes in data "constantly and quickly," he says, combining intuition and judgment, grounded in the facts he has available. "I don't like to get bogged down, and I try to find the common themes," he notes. "Complex problems can often be simplified with questions like, 'Why do we do that?' or 'What are we trying to fix?'"
Pugliese's ability to consume information quickly and distill it into a clear strategy has been noted throughout his career. "Anthony has a superhuman ability to synthesize information from across the organization, connect ideas and people, and drive collaboration and results — all with a sense of humor and wit that makes working with him feel like fun," says Heather Pownall, a management consultant for (ISC)2, who worked in business development under Pugliese's leadership at the AICPA. "He was the connective tissue, understanding everything that was going on across the organization and unifying the executive team."
The IIA's Executive Search Committee noted that Pugliese exuberantly takes on challenges and develops vision, strategy, and actionable plans. "Establishing a vision and being able to drive it through is a critical leadership skill," says Charlie Wright, Jack Henry & Associates chief risk officer, who served on the committee. "Anthony is a seasoned association leader who has a strategic focus on running a business, which will be critical to taking The IIA from where it is today and bringing us into tomorrow. He has very creative ideas about partnerships, our approach to training, how to respond to disruptive technology, and how to advance our digital transformation process."
Responding to Change and Disruption
A key priority for Pugliese is ensuring the internal audit profession remains relevant in today's highly disruptive business environment. Internal auditors must keep moving beyond their comfort zones, he says. They must consistently seek to expand their awareness and update their competencies through continuing education and training, especially in the areas of technology; human intelligence; and environmental, social, and governance (ESG). "The primary role of any professional association is to make sure that its members stay relevant," he explains. "The world is at a point where change is so fast that the people coming out of colleges and universities have more knowledge than the people mentoring and supervising them, so it's really incumbent upon our members to keep up. That is why I think education is so important."
While internal auditors hold the responsibility for seeking opportunities to learn, Pugliese also recognizes that The IIA must continually produce training on timely, relevant topics and design training platforms that attract members and give them something valuable. "We have to figure out a way to make learning fun so that people want to do it and that it's relevant to the issues we want to solve," he says. "Successful training means members walk out knowing how to do something versus just being able to remember what they heard."
Pugliese also says internal auditors need to be on the leading edge of awareness about technological developments and trends. "Technology has gone from being a way of increasing efficiency to something that is far more transformative across business and surely across every profession," Pugliese told Richard Chambers in a February edition of Chambers' IA Insights and Advice video series. "Embracing some of the disruptive aspects of business today and being able to guide management and boards and audit committees through things like technological disruption is going to be huge in positioning us for ongoing relevancy."
Going Beyond Technology
But internal auditors should not limit their continuing education to technology, Pugliese says. ESG is a burgeoning area that internal auditors are well-positioned to address. "Measuring and assessing nonfinancial indicators of success is really exciting, and internal auditors are very well-situated to do that kind of work, in fact better than almost any other profession," he says. "It's one of the biggest opportunities I've seen for internal audit to add value in a tangible way, not just to management and the board, but to everybody."
Human intelligence competency is also important for internal auditors. "Those skills you don't necessarily consider critical to a job — perception, intuition, and teamwork — actually are becoming more important," Pugliese says. "Internal auditors have to rely on many different people in the conduct of their work; they can't possibly know it all. So being able to assemble and lead a team is vital. Sometimes those skills are natural or innate, but often you can acquire them."
A self-described extrovert, Pugliese counts humor among his human intelligence skills. "Sometimes people can be overly serious when the situation doesn't warrant it," he says. "I found out early on that if you've got a good knack for using the right kind of humor and the right timing, it can defuse a lot of tension and anxiety."
While a love of people and a quick wit seem to come naturally to Pugliese, self-awareness, which he defines as understanding the way one is perceived by others, is more hard-won. "That's actually very important for any job, but particularly in the CEO role, much of what you do is to motivate people," he says.
Cultivating An Inclusive Culture
Pugliese is known for his ability to engage and empower people — key ingredients for building an inclusive culture. Terry Grafenstine, global chief auditor for technology at Citi, is a longtime IIA volunteer and member who met Pugliese while serving on the AICPA's board. As a public sector internal auditor, she was worried about fitting into a group dominated by private industry CPAs. "Anthony made me feel so welcome, like the things that I contributed were different and meaningful," Grafenstine recounts. She says Pugliese was instrumental in the AICPA's merger with the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and that he brought together individuals from different cultures, backgrounds, and industries, and motivated them around a common vision. "He made us feel like what we each had to say was important, and as a result, he got more out of the sum than the parts," Grafenstine explains.
Demonstrated effectiveness as a driver of inclusive culture was important to the executive search committee and the stakeholders surveyed by the committee at the onset of the process. The business benefits include increasing collaboration between IIA Headquarters and global affiliates and members, which ensures global voices feel equally heard and valued and maximizes the sharing of intellectual capital, according to Joyce. "We want to support diversity and inclusion throughout The IIA, both in the workplace and among our membership globally, so we probed all the candidates about their experience and engagement around that," Joyce explains.
Taking Action on Diversity
Pugliese says people often avoid the topic of diversity because they don't understand what to do with it. "It can be uncomfortable for some people," he says. "Yet when you talk to someone in an underrepresented population, it's really not that uncomfortable, because people want to talk and to give their point of view. And you just have to be respectful."
Pugliese has proven his willingness to tackle such issues directly, with measured thought and action. Following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being restrained by Minneapolis police last year, Pugliese issued a DE&I statement to the membership of CalCPA, committing to form a member-led DE&I committee responsible for establishing goals and practices to identify and address racial inequities. Additionally, CalCPA and the Institute of Management Accountants jointly issued a survey-driven report that exposed troubling disparities in the senior ranks of the accounting industry. "We have gotten a little bit better on hiring, in terms of bringing in underrepresented populations, but we haven't done much better in terms of bringing those individuals all the way up into key senior management roles," Pugliese explains. "And I sense the same concerns are here in the internal audit profession, so we're going to continue this work."
In addition to being the right thing to do, the survival of the profession is contingent upon underrepresented groups seeing themselves in business roles like internal auditing, Pugliese adds. "Diversity, equity, and inclusion are business decisions as much as they are ethical decisions," he says, noting that changing demographics alone make diversity "intrinsically important" to the pipeline of future auditors.
Pugliese says having a global board of directors with members from underrepresented groups will lead this progress. "They get it, including me; for the LGBTQIA population, I get it," he says. Leveraging personal experiences will foster multiple approaches to success, he notes, but the process of trying various plans of attack prompts an urgency in getting started. "There's not one magic program."
As organizations face a whirlwind of change, technologically and socially, internal auditors must be ready to go all in on the unique opportunities at their fingertips. Pugliese is palpably enthusiastic about ensuring The IIA is the dynamic and inclusive authority, educator, and advocate to help the profession seize those opportunities globally.
"His energy is clearly contagious," says Jenitha John, CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors and IIA Global Board chair, who served on the search committee. She and others laud Pugliese's insight, foresight, and fresh perspectives as well as his ability to parlay them into a vision for The IIA. "Anthony demonstrates the caliber and attributes we require in the next CEO," she says. "We look forward to his expertise and wisdom."